Missions: A Self-Reflection

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Council of Nicea: Early Christian Academia. Image via Wikipedia

One of my favorite books is “The Gospel Blimp and Other Modern Parables”. It is by Joseph Bayly and has a lot of great stories that challenge our notion of our faith. A number of these stories are (HAPPILY!!!) available online at http://www.ccel.us/howsilently.toc.html#Eleven  One of these stories is Ceiling Zero. In this story some people are able to fly (without aircraft and without balloons). But as the story goes on, the focus shifts from the excitement of being able to fly and wanting to help others learn to fly, to studying Aerodynamic Theories, and questioning whether seeking to help people fly helps or hurts those who are bound to the ground.

The story is meant to be a parable about salvation and evangelism. But to me it also is looking at Missions.

Missions often seems to be more about strategy, writing books, speaking engagements, and missions conferences than it is about… well… doing missions. I find this tendency in missions to be rather seductive formany… including myself. I am an analytical type. I am also task-oriented, rather than people-oriented. Additionally, my skill set is more organizational. So I find myself:

-Administrating a Christian counseling center

-Developing syllabi for missions classes and “powerpoints” for seminars.

-Writing reports and developing plans

-Reading books on missions and theology and synthesizing them in my mind and on paper

But is this missions? I think it is to a certain extent… but there is a caveat. Utilizing ones talents and training to serve God is good; but there is the risk that one will simply drift into one’s comfort zone and refuse to leave. I used to go outside of my comfort zone a lot, back when I was running (with my wife) medical mission trips, and assisting in a churchplanting effort. But my forays into missions that directly interacts with people in need has been less in recent times.

An additional concern is that missions strategy and theory becomes disconnected from reality.  This seems to be common in missiology today. Missiology must be grounded in sound theology and social sciences… but must also be rooted in the real world (not just academia).

I see myself at risk in this area. That is why I am looking to go outside of my normal comfort zone. I have been working on administration and training at our counseling center. I am now moving into doing regular (instead of occasional) counseling. This is somewhat scary for me. I much prefer to type than talk (especially one-on-one). But this is important. It is not to remove myself from the more normative work I do. Rather, it is to keep myself from losing my connection with reality… people in need.

I keep changing my mind about how to define “missions”. I have heard good definitions and bad definitions. The one that I am leaning towards right now is as follows.

Missions is:             1.  Human response to God’s mission.    (This requires faithfulness on our part)

  2.  Human response to God’s love. (This requires worship on our part)

3.  Human response to human suffering. (This requires compassion on our part)

I think that when missions gets too grounded in academia, the third part (compassion) becomes abstract. Additionally, missions begins to become less an act of worship (and the term “worship” becomes taken over by singers, shouters, and dancers). Academic missions becomes mostly limited to “faithfulness”. But what is it that we are faithful to? Is it God? God’s Mission? Or our vocation?

I don’t have all this worked out in my head yet. That’s okay. It’s a lifetime pursuit with God.

I think we all need Self-Reflection. And I think we need honest appraisals from friends. Being successful in what one is doing does not mean that one doesn’t have important blindspots that must be addressed.

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